Thilo Bode on shifting power dynamics that endanger democracy, the free market, self-determination and freedom.
Have you ever collaborated with a theatre before?
No, but I’ve found this experience, especially with a political, documentary play, to be exciting and enriching.
Mr Bode, what do you have against corporations?
We need corporations, CEOs are also not ‘the evil ones’ per se, just as NGOs and their bosses are not automatically ‘the good ones’. Corporate heads are obliged to do everything to make the greatest possible profit for their shareholders. The drama, which unfortunately plays out not just onstage, is that this context has them – completely legally – making decisions that have catastrophic effects on the whole world. It is a tragedy for humanity that corporations do not use their massive technological potential for the good of the whole but to its detriment instead. Take the fantastic progress in the reduction of the use of petrol in cars for example. It has only been used to make heavier and heavier cars with more hp and more emissions, instead of producing cars with effectively less petrol use. Then we would be in a very different place in the fight against CO2 emissions.
Since 1989 you’ve been ticking off powerful corporations – with Greenpeace at first, then at Foodwatch – and in books like Die Diktatur der Konzerne (The Dictatorship of Corporations). In the process, they’ve become more and more powerful. But you’re not capitulating.
Why should we capitulate? Our work lies in saying what is. That’s the only way the potential for change arises. Of course, it’s wonderful when there’s a success. But we must not whitewash our work. It is unfortunately the case that, even though the joint efforts of the past decades in a wide range of fields have contributed to small improvements here and there, the imbalance between corporations and people has just increased in favour of corporations. The only solution is publicity. Pressure must be created to force politicians to create policies to manage corporations’ power.
In your book Die Diktatur der Konzerne, there’s no sign of this hope.
Offering people hope is something for the church to do. My job is to create outrage about untenable conditions. A political-industrial complex has come up, in which corporations and policy makers have created a marriage of convenience for their mutual benefit that no longer makes decisions against corporations. We were just shown that quite plainly. Under the eyes of the regulatory authorities, automotive corporations were able to equip their cars in such a way that they continued to poison the environment on the streets while remaining clean on test tracks. Policy makers have allowed VW, Daimler and the like to enrich themselves at the cost of their customers and the health of the population at large.
A fraud, a clear violation of the law?
The courts are arguing about that now. At any rate, this »swindle software« with its cutesy nickname defies the spirit of the official automotive and climate policy. The fact that whether or not it’s a violation of the law hasn’t been determined yet, is precisely due to the fact that the legal departments of the corporations played a decisive role in formulating the legal text. Disinformation, lies, manipulation and fraud are part of the business model of most large corporations, whether it’s food, automotive, finance or digital corporations. They all end up damaging us but not having to answer for it. The state does what the corporations want. No matter which party is currently in power.
But the pandemic measures have shown us that corporations can be cracked down on. Entire industries have been shut down.
Yes, but not to change their business models, rather to protect the health of the population in a drastic, emergency situation and, at the same time, keep the economy going. This resolve has been forced onto the state and it can, as we’ve seen, deliver on it. But we need something else: namely, in perfectly normal times, control over the destructive actions of corporations that are now nearly accepted as normal. In the end, the pandemic will reinforce the process of consolidation – in retail for example – once again, and the major corporations will emerge as the Covid-winners and grow larger yet again. When governments and parliaments fail to control corporations, democracy is at its end. Because then the government can just be transferred over to the corporations. At least that would be honest!
In your book Die Demokratie verrät ihre Kinder (Democracy Betrays Its Children) you were already warning us that democracy is about to abolish itself 17 years ago.
Unfortunately, the truth is that nothing has improved. Parliamentary democracy is decaying into a shell. That doesn’t minimize my great respect for the hard-working representatives and members of government at all. Under our very eyes, the power dynamics in our society are shifting to such an extent that it is endangering our democracy, the free market, our self-determination and our freedom. And if this is expressed in a theatre piece and makes people reflect, I consider that a success!
Interview: Arno Widmann
Macht der Konzerne is a production of the Maxim Gorki Theatre in cooperation with Schöpflin Stiftung.
Macht der Konzerne